20:44 GMT31 October 2020
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    Earlier this month, Google released the Chrome 69 update to its popular web browser. However, while it updated the program on your computer, what the web giant didn’t tell you was that it was removing the option not to log into the program with your Google account. Experts fear the change will cause users to inadvertently share their browsing data.

    "Any time someone using Chrome logs into a Google service or site, they are also logged into Chrome-as-a-browser with that user account," user Balint explained on his personal blog on Saturday. "Any time someone logs out of a Google service, they are also logged out of the browser."

    "Before Chrome 69, Chrome users could decline to be logged into Chrome entirely, skipping the use of Sync and other features that require a login, and they could use Chrome in a logged-out state while still making use of Gmail, for example," Balint wrote.

    ​Adrienne Porter Felt, a Google engineer who manages the Chrome browser, took to Twitter on Monday to quell user outrage and explain that while "Chrome desktop now tells you that you're ‘signed in' whenever you're signed in to a Google website, this does NOT mean that Chrome is automatically sending your browsing history to your Google account!"

    "Chrome UI shows your sign-in status in the top right corner," she explained. Previously, when using one Google's services such as Gmail or Google Earth, one's profile picture was shown in a circle in the top-right corner of the page, and to log into Chrome itself was a second, separate process. But now when you log into those Google features, you'll see your profile picture appear a second time, in a smaller circle next to the web address. That means you're logged into the Chrome browser, too — and you can't choose otherwise.

    Porter Felt said the primary impetus for the change was confusion on shared computers. "My teammates made this change to prevent surprises in a shared device scenario. In the past, people would sometimes sign out of the content area and think that meant they were no longer signed into Chrome, which could cause problems on a shared device." The purpose of the sync option is to share your preferences, including browsing history but also location, contacts and any autofill information you may have in forms, such as address and credit card information, with Google so that it can sync them between your other devices when you log into your Google account.

    ​However, the rub is that by not making it clear to users that they've logged into Chrome, the change makes it much, much easier for them to accidentally abdicate their right to privacy and share information with Google, a company already known for using surreptitious ways of getting around users' desires not to divulge that information.

    Just last month, an Associated Press investigation proved that some Google apps on Android devices and iPhones were saving users' location data even when the Location History setting was turned off, Sputnik reported.

    The Google Account Help page now says that "this setting does not affect other location services on your device," noting that "some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps."

    However, previously, the page stated that "with Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored."

    Cryptography expert and Johns Hopkins University professor Matthew Green explained in a personal blog post Sunday, titled "Why I'm done with Chrome," just what the problems with the new login feature are.

    While Green made clear that Chrome managers had told him that being logged into Chrome didn't automatically mean his browsing information was being sent to the tech giant's databases, the incredible ease by which it could be activated was part of a "dark pattern," a term he suggested describing a confusing interface designed to deceive or mislead people.

    That's especially worrisome, given the ability of Google to passively control what information we have access to. Dr. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, told Radio Sputnik last week that Google is "a surveillance machine" and "the most powerful mind control machine that has ever — ever — been invented in human history," capable of shifting millions of votes simply by placing some search preferences higher than others.

    "Now that I'm forced to log into Chrome," Green wrote, "I'm faced with a brand new menu I've never seen before." He noted that with the on/off switch option, you're now "a single accidental click" away from divulging all your personal information to Google. Indeed, in researching for this article, this Sputnik writer went to turn off the feature and accidentally turned it on, finding the interface confusing as to what the status of the feature even is.


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